Symposium Speakers

May 9-10, 2008

Stephen C. Ainlay

Union College
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Re-Imagining Liberal Education in the 21st Century

Abstract: The confluence of a number of forces, both longer term and recent, has challenged educators to re-imagine the very nature of what it means to be liberally educated. This is certainly true of the relationship of engineering and the liberal arts. The Academy has already begun to develop innovative programs that give substance to a more expansive understanding of the central role engineering can play. Union and many of the other institutions represented at the Symposium provide rich illustrations of the Academy’s response. We at Union College are responding programmatically, consistent with our history and our newly-adopted Strategic Plan. In addition to programmatic responses, however, integration between engineering and liberal arts must take place at fundamental intellectual levels, and this can be done. Scholars and teachers across the curriculum should compare and learn from one another at the conceptual level, at the creative level, at the evaluative level. The liberal arts college and those at the university committed to the traditions of a liberal education are well-situated to lead this exciting intellectual paradigm shift. It is high time for this shift, and we will need to work together to make it happen.


Carol T. Christ

Smith College
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Abstract: After a brief historical overview, establishing that the concept of the liberal arts curriculum has never been a stable one, I describe seven current important developments in the liberal arts—a movement away from subject matter to intellectual capacities as an organizing concept for the liberal arts; interdisciplinarity; internationalization; an increasing emphasis on training for citizenship; environmental education; an increased focus on undergraduate research; and an increased focus on project-based learning. I then make the argument that all of these developments characterize engineering education, and that we should understand engineering as a liberal art.

Carol Christ is the tenth president of Smith College. Educated at Douglass College and at Yale University, she began her teaching career as a member of the Department of English at the University of California at Berkeley. Her specialty is Victorian British literature. After serving in a number of administrative positions at Berkeley, including Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, she began her appointment as Smith's president in 2002.


Lance E. Schachterle

Associate Provost for Academic Affairs
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
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Why Does Engineering Fit into a Liberal Education?

Abstract: Scientists understand the world; engineers change the world. Engineers demonstrate creativity; engineers exercise critical thinking skills, work in teams, communicate across disciplinary boundaries, and make decisions based on social concerns and their personal ethics—and can teach those skills to all students, whether liberal arts or engineering. Engineers live the life of the mind as much as their liberal-arts colleagues, as can be shown by the ways in which they solve problems. A cornerstone of any undergraduate education should be learning how to solve problems. My main argument is that engineering education, as a form of liberal education, liberal knowing, and liberal action, is learning how to solve problems. The “ways of knowing the world” (another shibboleth from liberal education) which engineers distinctively use can—if abstracted from the enormous science and art of the specific engineering disciplines—solve problems in all domains where humans need solutions. Such an approach to solving problems then would well exemplify the most compelling definition I have ever heard of a worthwhile education: “what you use after you have forgotten everything you’ve learned.”

Lance Schachterle joined WPI as an assistant professor of English in 1970, and has taught a variety of courses and projects in American and British literature. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Haverford College in 1966 and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970. From 1984 to 1993, he chaired Interdisciplinary Studies and Global Programs at WPI, and contributed to the growth of WPI's Global Perspective Program (through which more than half WPI's engineering majors now have a project experience abroad). In the last several years, he has served as Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, directing ABET and regional assessment activities and overseeing WPI's outcomes assessment programs. His work on creating a BA degree at WPI is based on ideas first expressed in his essay "Liberal Education Responds: Discussing ABET 2000 within a Humanities Division," from the 2004 book Liberal Education in Twenty-First Century Engineering: Responses to ABET/EC 2000, part of a series he edits for Peter Lang , "WPI Studies in Science, Technology, and Culture.")


Domenico Grasso, Ph.D., P.E., DEE

Dean of the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences
The University of Vermont
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A Liberal Education and the End of Technology

Abstract: As engineered technologies become woven into the fabric of our society, engineers ignore the need for integrating valuable, nontechnical skills, into their educational paradigm at their profession's peril. The exciting future of engineering is beyond technological labels (e.g., mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, chemical engineer) where isolated training falls to a more powerful profession of liberally educated "holistic engineers" -- engineers who manage, lead and understand complex, interdisciplinary systems that bring the power of engineering thought to issues spanning and connecting technology, law, public policy, sustainability, government and industry. The end of technology as engineering's sole focus allows a future where the engineering profession actively grows and evolves, bringing the very best of science, technology, and innovation to serve the complex challenges of our 21st century lives.

Dr. Domenico Grasso is the Dean of the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS) at the University of Vermont (UVM). He holds a B.Sc. from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, an M.S. from Purdue University and a Ph.D. from The University of Michigan. He is a registered Professional Engineer in the states of Connecticut and Texas, and a Diplomate of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers.

Prior to joining UVM, Dean Grasso was Founding Director of the Picker Engineering Program at Smith College, and Professor and Head of Department in Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Connecticut. He has been a Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley, a NATO Fellow, and an Invited Technical Expert to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in Vienna, Austria. Professor Grasso is Chair of Vermont's Environmental and Engineering Advisory Council and Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Engineering Science. He was formerly Vice-Chair of the United States Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board and President of the Association of Environmental Engineering & Science Professors.